“A LETTER OF THANKS”
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
I have a container on my dresser at home that holds letters I’ve received; it is oval and is faux leather. I’ve had it for many years. In it I can return to memories: memories of nice things people have said; memories of news they shared; memories of special people; memories of notes I don’t want to discard. This last week I gave thanks for them. I save letters. All the letters Mary Ann wrote to me when we were dating I’ve saved in shoeboxes. Back in those days, we couldn’t text each other, and to call meant a long distance charge would be added to the phone bill of the one calling. We would call each other about once a week and talk for 30 t0 45 minutes. Long distance phone bills added up! It was a different world. These days, for special words, I still write letters instead of emails. My handwriting is poor but more people would like, I believe, a handwritten note, rather than a text or an email that is momentary and then gone. It costs money to send it; I buy note cards or notepaper and envelopes; and I pay 49 cents for a stamp to send it. It is worth it to me. Sometimes the personal touch gets left out of our world. As we go into the Christmas season I like getting and receiving Christmas cards, even though many let Facebook do their talking. The season of Thanksgiving that we have just experienced, and the seasons of Advent and Christmas that we face, are ones where we pay attention to writings; not just letters, but stories, and Scripture. It is a rich time of the year. This week I received an Advent Devotional Book from Columbia Seminary. They wanted money too, of course. I also got one from the magazine, “Presbyterians Today.” I will pull out our old devotional booklets and Christmas stories from under our stairs at home, and prepare to read and re-read many of them to get the flavor and spirit of this season pumping through my emotional blood again. Especially against the backdrop of the evening news, “we need a little Christmas, right this very minute” to quote a familiar song.
In Paul’s day a letter was extraordinarily expensive, but it was the only way to send thoughts or instructions. Letter’s would be written on materials like papyrus, rolled up, and sent to someone else by messenger. No postal service in those days! And that’s what we have before us today: a thank you letter from Paul.
Listen to the verses before our text today: Paul writes: “Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought the good news of your faith and love, and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith….” Paul, on behalf of Timothy and Silas, did not always have as good an experience, or as positive a connection with other young churches, as they had with the Thessalonians. So he doesn’t keep it to himself; he lets them know; he thanks them. Hear his words in verse 9: “What thanksgiving can we render to God for you, for all the joy which we feel for your sake?” How do you thank God? Do you set aside time to offer prayers of thanks? How do you thank others who have blessed your life? Maybe a letter is a good idea. A verbal “thank you” dissipates shortly after it is said; a written word of thanks takes time and effort on the part of the grateful one. At Christmas when I was young, one of my “chores” was being told I must write thank you notes to the people (other than immediate family) who gave me gifts. If I protested, the TV would stay off until I made a “dent” in my list! These days I keep my list voluntarily, looking forward to writing to the people who thought enough of me to send a gift.
Sometimes when we write to people we offer words of commendation or encouragement too. Listen to Paul wish the Thessalonians well: “May the Lord help you increase your love and abound in love to one another and to others.” Its Paul’s hope for them; an encouragement. How hungry people are for words like that! How often people go through life with some holes in their soul, holes that can be filled with a kind word offered, a blessing extended, or a genuine word of thanks! Teachers have told me that all that they put up with to teach is worth it when they get a note from a student who has grown up to say “You have changed my life.” I shouldn’t have been amazed when we had the memorial service here for our long time choir director, Judson Rogers, that young adults from Indiana, and Virginia, and other states hopped on planes on short notice or drove their cars to be here to pay their respects. “Mr. Rogers changed my life,” one said. Another said, “I became a music teacher because of him.” Judson was a high school chorus teacher as well as a church musician. I wish, and I hope, that he knew of their complimentary words before he died; that would have lifted up his heart. A letter would have done nicely.
So as we begin the Advent season, the world again badly needs its Savior. Ages before Jesus’ birth, prophets who listened to God said a new day was coming and changes were on the way. We pray for that now; we need that now in our fighting and broken world. But what can we do? There is little we can do with the situations brought into our minds from TVs or the Internet except grow frightened, mad, or anxious. Those are things we cannot change, aside from our prayers. But there are things we can change. Who knows when a friend, or teacher or loved one will die unexpectedly, on a highway, in a building, through a physical ailment, or because of their age? A letter like Paul sent, carefully worded and filled with praise or thanks, can change a person’s outlook on life. We could use a different outlook in our world today! Why not work on changing the world, one letter at a time? It’s not the biggest thing one can do, but it’s one thing.
One final thought: two of my favorite letters I have saved are from women of stature I’d admired during their life. But macular degeneration made their eyesight fail. Still, I have a note from each of them, sharing kind words with me. Their formerly beautiful penmanship runs downhill on the note. Letters are squeezed in as words went closer to the edge of the paper than they realized. But of all my letters, these are two I treasure. I thank God for special people who have lifted me up, when I especially needed to be lifted. May someone do that to you too, as you lift up someone else. Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus in this upcoming holy and joyous season.
Let us pray:
O Lord God: just a word of thanks; just a word of adoration and appreciation: isn’t that what you hope to receive from us? This season we want you to hear from us. After all, you’ve given us the greatest gift of all at Christmas; perhaps our gift to you can be our prayer and our devotion; and lives lived differently. We can start now. So we say, “thank you;” we adore and appreciate you! Love to you from your grateful children. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 29th, 2015